How to be a lady

Elyse is only four years old and she’s sitting in the Pfister lobby with her grandparents, ambulance Irene and Keith Wells, learning “how to be a lady.” (Some of us are 40 and may or may not be clear on the details of lady-dom, but that’s another blog entirely.)

The Wells are from Sydney, Australia, but are here for their annual visit to the Midwest to visit their Chicago-based son, recipe daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. They brought Elyse, their eldest granddaughter, to Milwaukee via train for a two-day get-away.

Although staying at a nearby hotel, they chose the Pfister as their locale for brunch and lady lessons.

So what does it mean to be a lady?

“It means no feet on chairs. Sitting nicely in chairs. Not talking loudly. Not running in the halls. And keeping our fingers clean,” says Irene.

(Phew! Maybe there’s hope for me yet. I seem to do most of these things on a regular basis.)

But despite the “rules” involved in acting like a lady, the rest of their visit to Brew City is spontaneous and free spirited. The trio have enjoyed their time, going on “discovery walks” where they explore Downtown at their leisure.

So far, they have discovered, aptly, the Discovery World Museum, as well at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra concert and the lakefront’s War Memorial. Consequently, Elyse is referring to her sausages as “soldiers.”

She is also quite fond of the “angels” on the ceiling mural in the Pfister’s lobby.

The Wells are in the United States for a month. Their son and his family visit them every year for a month as well.

“We do OK. We get to see each other quite a bit considering the distance,” says Irene. “And there’s always Skype.”

Keith and Irene’s son came to the United States on business 10 years ago. He met the woman who would later become his wife at church. However, his first visit to the U.S. was at age 15 when Keith and Irene took him to see the Sears Tower in, coincidentally, Chicago.

“Little did we know 20 years later our son would return and get married,” says Keith, a now-retired engineer who traveled to Milwaukee in 1992 on business to study the control systems at Rockwell Automation.

Keith went on to ask me a bunch of questions I could not answer about the Rockwell Automation four-sided clock, called the Allen Bradley Clocktower as well as “The Polish Moon” to locals.

I told him even though I could see the clock from my front porch, I had to consult with Google to answer his inquiries. Keith, I hope you’re reading this.

His first question was whether or not the clock was still the largest in the world. I knew it was not, but could not remember the details and rediscovered it was the largest in the western hemisphere until Abraj Al Bait Towers was built a couple of years ago in Saudi Arabia.

He also asked me the dimensions of the clock tower, which I did not know, either. But, alas, Google later told me it’s 281 feet tall.

Keith didn’t seem too bothered by my lack of information. I offered to look it up on my phone immediately, but he chuckled and shook his head softly. Elyse climbed on his lap and rested her head on is chest. He took a sip of his orange juice.

“I’m living the easy life now,” he says.

And So It Goes…

…said Kurt Vonnegut. A simplistic way to convey closure, to throw your hands up in the air and surrender, to explain the inexplicable.  And so I go, back to my life pre-Pfister, after six months of exploring, discovering, conversing, photographing, writing, and blogging. There is no simple way to explain what it’s like being a fly on the wall of the historic Pfister Hotel for six months.  I can’t deny the paradox of learning so many new things in such an old space. It’s filled with millions of stories, the fondest of memories, casual comforts and subtle luxuries. Even more, with hundreds of helping hands and smiling faces, The Pfister is home to some of the most caring and talented professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It’s evident how much they genuinely take pride in their work. They adopted me as one of their own, but treated me like royalty.

Me and the boys
Me and the boys

So just in case you were curious, this is how it all began. Below, see the sample blog I wrote when I was vying for the position of Pfister Narrator. It has not yet been published, but it’s still one of my favorite stories, just because it’s so obscure and outlandish. Yes, it’s a true story, and it happened at the Pfister.

Cleaning House

“It really is a sickness, you know,” he insisted. Mike was in town for a week “on family business.” He quickly revealed that this family business was cleaning and selling the home of a recently deceased cousin who was a hoarder. I wasn’t going to pry on such a sensitive issue, but he was eager to explain: “We have been heaving crap out of his house for three days.”

I got sucked into this story with the most common pick up line, “So, you from around here?” He introduced himself as Rob and his friend, Mike. Rob’s flamboyant shirt was screaming at me and his sneaky grin was playful, not threatening. His childhood buddy Mike was along for the ride to provide moral support. He was sporting a tuxedo shirt, black cargo pants, steel-toed boots and a baseball cap. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his attire. When he explained that he was a certified Mercedes mechanic, also working as a producer in L.A., it made a little more sense. Their drink: Woodford Reserve Bourbon – straight up – with a side of water.

Both men are Kansas City natives and when they found out I was from Milwaukee, they began grilling me on all the hot spots in town. I quickly turned the conversation back to the family business and the hoarding. “I swear we have already filled four, 30-yard dumpsters,” bemoaned Mike. “Magazines, empty Godiva chocolate boxes; you name it, the house is packed to the gills!” Mike explained that his cousin took care of his paralyzed wife in that house for 33 years. He was, like most people, totally perplexed by the hoarding. Mike and Rob were sleeping on an air mattress in the five-bedroom house on west Good Hope Road. Rob had already made up his mind that he was going to hire someone from off the street to finish up the cleaning tomorrow so they could get the house on the market.

Desperate for some relief from cleaning, their realtor had suggested Blu as the premier spot in the city to get a cocktail. Mike and Rob were impressed with the diversity of the hotel and abashedly admitted that they wouldn’t mind finding some lady company to see more of the town with. That was my cue to step aside and let these gentlemen unwind. They were warm and obliging, confirming the fact that you don’t find friendlier folk than you do in Midwest.

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Dancing With the Stars

It’s the one sport that caters to people ages 3-93. And, it has the elegance, grace and pizzazz of a Hollywood movie premier. The Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships was back at the Pfister Hotel for its 26th year of professional/amateur ballroom dance competition last weekend.

Dan and Rebecca Messenger, from Nashotah, Wisconsin, organized the event and attracted thousands of dancers from all over the U.S for four days of fierce competition. There was up to $3,000 in prize money at stake in addition to scholarships available for continuing instruction. Looking through the program and schedule of events was like flipping the yellow pages, in Greek. There were back-to-back events for different ability levels and ages for the rumba, pasa doble, swing and more. It was just like watching Dancing with the Stars, but this time the stars weren’t celebrities vying for a second chance at fame, they were bona-fide dancing divas. There were support teams, families, and dance enthusiasts with every form of technology capturing the dancers’ every movement and expression during the awards ceremony after each event.

So rather than try and tell you about this visually stunning display, I am going to show you in the slideshow below. It will make you want to move your feet. Viva la dance!

Artists Among Us

The Pfister is well known for its Victorian Art collection and for supporting the arts in Milwaukee, but did you know how many amazing artists they have on staff? One of the best parts about working here has been meeting and hearing the stories about the incredibly and diversely talented staff. You never know who you are going to meet at the Pfister. The waitress in the cafe takes vintage photographs, the server in banquets creates mixed-media masterpieces, and the manager booking your event is an opera powerhouse.

Once you hear Catering Sales Manager Kristine Baker laugh, you will know that she’s a soprano. She attended the UW-Green Bay with the intent of becoming a teacher, but halfway through her first semester she realized that working with kids wasn’t the right fit. The choral director at her high school was really passionate about what he did, making it easy for her to get engaged and discover her love for music. In college, her advisor encouraged her to audition as a voice major and she thought, “That sounds like fun!”  It involved a lot of voice lessons and recitals, but she did also take center stage.

Kristine played the role of Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Dido in Dido and Aeneas. “When you are an opera singer, you always want to die a couple of times, it’s great fun,” she reveals. “Pretty much anything that is a Puccini soprano, I love, it just fits  my voice really well.” But she has always wanted to sing Rusalka – an intricate Czech opera.

At the Pfister, Kristine stays connected to the arts and nonprofits by planning annual galas and fundraising events. As we talked in her office, she sat with the posture and alacrity of Catholic school kid on the first day. Her smooth blonde hair spilled down her shoulders like honey oozing out of a jar.  Growing up, she sang in the church choir and performed solos in high school. “When you are from a small town (Merrill, WI) there aren’t a lot of options nor was there a lot of competition,” she admits.

When she laughed from her belly it was like she was singing scales. “My voice type is a meaty, heavier sound. People usually turn and stare when I sing in church.” Though I begged her to serenade me, Kristine was recovering from a cold. “It takes a lot to keep your voice healthy. You’re so reliant on your instrument,  you’re voice always has to be on. Pollen, even soda, can really mess with you,” she laments.

“But do you sing in the shower? Do you sing karaoke?” I asked, still totally intrigued by her talent. “Actually I have never sang karaoke, I think it would bug me if I heard all of those people singing songs wrong.” Kristine  sings at home in her music room and  continues to take voice lessons.

“Sopranos are bountiful,” she admits, “But I plan to audition with local groups like the Florentine Opera and the Skylight Music Theatre to begin performing again.”

Kristine Baker
Kristine Baker

 

 

Serving and Protecting By Day and By Night

Everyone has a very different version of a hero. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their acts even go unnoticed at times. Mike Nichols, a Pfister associate, working in loss and prevention (a.k.a security) fulfills his need to serve and protect not only at the Pfister during the evening, but also during the day, accomplishing heroic acts for American veterans.

A retired military officer and 23-year veteran, Nichols works for the Center for Veteran’s Issues in Milwaukee where he helps secure housing for veterans and their families. After a long career in manufacturing, he realized about a year ago that his heart was in helping others both here at the Pfister and among a population he respects and can relate to. We had a relaxed conversation about what he does and why he does it. See for yourself the way his face lights up when he talks about his Christmas morning type experiences working with veterans.

Sunday at the Spa

What’s a better gift than comfort and relaxation? I’d argue that there’s none. While some people see it as a luxury, others enjoy massage therapy as a part of their regular health and wellness routine – lucky people indeed.  The waiting room at the Well Spa one Sunday afternoon was filled with new guests and regulars: an athletic looking man, an anxious couple, a mother-daughter duo, and an older woman pouring over a magazine. Everyone was whispering and slowly slipping away from the chaos of their own worlds in the solace of the waiting room, where the Well Spa experience really begins. I was cautious to interrupt people, so I began observing with my eyes behind a tattered copy of People and waited for an opportune moment to approach a guest.

As the sleek, all-black clad therapists cycled in and out to escort guests back to their private suites,  Ashley and Michael’s eyes continued to widen. They smiled and peered over each other’s shoulders at the surveys they were filling out detailing their preferences for the treatment. It was obvious that they had no idea what they were about the experience.

So I just had to ask – “Is this your first time here?” Ashely chirped back. “Oh yes, this is our first massage and we’re going in together.”  It was a birthday gift from Ashley to Michael, who turned 24 on Sunday. “Michael was having some back pain, so I thought this would be good for him.”  A romantic couples massage is a perfect gift, in fact, it’s two great gifts wrapped up in one, as the giver also benefits from his/her own generosity.

Ashley and Michael have been dating for five years and married for three. They’ve lived in Milwaukee all their lives, but they’ve never been to the Pfister Hotel. After their massage, they planned to  continue the birthday celebration at dinner.

As more guests circulated out from the suites back into the waiting room, they moved a little slower, stood a little taller and their skin looked a little fresher. They marched back into the real world, hopefully better equipped to combat harsh realities like the weather, work, and stress. Thankfully this harmonious oasis is open seven days a week.

welcome to the Well Spa
Welcome to the Well Spa

Blu-tending on Behalf of the Arts

Tina Chang is a young philanthropic leader, CEO, board president, arts patron, and more. One thing she is not – a bartender. But, tonight she is playing the role at Blu to raise money for United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) and the Skylight Music Theatre.

“We have a friendly competition going, but really at the end of the day it goes to the same place – to the health of the UPAF member groups,” she says. By the looks of it, she is actually a fantastic bartender and a fund-raiser. She has a few $20 bills and even a $100 tucked into her collar like a bib, proudly displaying her earnings. The real Blu bartenders are a big help with the actual drink making, while she works hard on getting tips, she admits.

The bar is four-people-deep by the time I arrive at 6:30. There must be 200 thirsty, generous, art lovers crowding the bar – the largest the bartenders say they have ever seen for a celebrity Blu-tender event. These periodic events allow people to come in and work the bar at Blu to earn a cut of the proceeds for a deserving nonprofit.

Kathleen Dohearty is also slinging drinks while representing UPAF’s Next Generation Group. Next Generation is an affinity group for members under 45-years-old who contribute $500 or more and receive special benefits.  The idea is to cultivate the next generation of philanthropic leaders and arts patrons for our city.

Kevin Hanson, Jennifer Mattes, Paul Snyder and Mike Kellman - UPAF Next Generation co-chairs (past and present)
Kevin Hanson, Jennifer Mattes, Paul Snyder and Mike Kellman – UPAF Next Generation co-chairs (past and present)

“At UPAF, we are made up of a very diverse community. Anyone and everyone who wants to participate and lead can. People feel like it will take forever to lead in Milwaukee, but the community wants leadership, wants people to share their talents. You don’t have to be a CEO or part of the legacy family to lead in Milwaukee,” insists Tina.

Rich Meeusen is another one of the celebrity Blu-tenders. He prepares his signature Almond Cigar cocktail for Eric Paulsen, which Paulsen tells me is “award winning.”  I had to validate this claim, so I ask Rich for clarification. “It was invented by Vaklav Vijor, the owner of Bugsy’s in Prague.  I went to Prague a few years ago and sought out Vaklav so he could show me exactly how to make the drink,” he reveals.

The recipe goes like this:

  • 2 parts white rum
  • 1 part Amaretto
  • 1 part line juice

Shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass, garnished with a lime twist and a cinnamon stick.

Rich explains that the best part of this drink is that it incorporates three of the five tastes that the human palate can discern: sweet (the rum), sour (the lime juice) and umami (the amaretto).  “Also, the cinnamon stick garnish enhances the umami flavor, making it quite unique.”

“As a result of my stint at Blu, I developed a new respect for the bartenders in our city – that was darn hard work!” says Rich later in an email. “I was sweating heavily by the time I was done with my one-hour shift, but very happy that I raised $1,500 in tips for UPAF.  And I introduced Milwaukee to the Almond Cigar.”DSC_0001

Milwaukee thanks you, Rich, for the Almond Cigar.

The 2013 UPAF campaign is underway and will culminate with its signature event, The Ride of the Arts on June 2. Three chair people are leading the charge this year – Gail Lione retired lawyer from Harley-Davidson, Chuck Harvey from Johnson Controls, and Skip Poliner from Northwestern Mutual –  to raise $11 million for the arts, the highest amount in UPAF’s 46-year history.

For more information on member groups, events or to donate, click here. After all, “The arts feed your soul,” reminds Tina.

 

Carla and Tommy

“I made a song!” she declared with a Christmas-morning smile. Dan invited her over to the piano in the lobby to play a few notes. “He knows that Jeff always plays ‘Summertime’ for me, because that’s the song my mother used to sing to me when I was a baby girl,” Carla explained as a juicy tear welled up in her coffee-colored eye. Now, her adoring husband Tommy calls her baby girl.

Carla and Tommy Shircel have one tradition – they celebrate their anniversary every year at the Pfister Hotel.

“Dan asked me to pick the first three notes and from there, he taught me how to compose a song. It’s called ‘Carla’s Song.'” She continued to boast about her song like she had just earned an A on a term paper.

Carla and Dan, the piano man
Carla and Dan, the piano man

Carla and Tommy met in 1994 and wanted to get married at the Pfister on April Fool’s day, but had to settle for March 31.

“I started coming here when I was this big,” Carla puts her hand about two feet from the ground, which translates to about four years old. “This has been my home-away-from-home. We used to sit here in the lobby and watch the Circus Parade,” she recalls.

Her Aunt Rosy was a catering manager and after all these years, she still works at the Pfister in the engineering department.

Carla and Tommy’s wedding ceremony, back in 1995, was held in one of the suites and the reception continued in the Cafe Rouge before they left directly for Jamaica. Tommy had just started a new job with Rockwell Automation and because he didn’t have much vacation time, he went into work the morning of his wedding to afford them one extra day on their honeymoon.

“There is so much history and culture here. It feels you’re walking into your grandma’s big mansion, doesn’t it?” insists Carla. “Every bride has posed on that marble staircase, I know I did!”

Walking in the front door is Carla’s favorite view of the Pfister. As a devout Italian, she particularity loves all of the Italian frescoes. Every year they return to the Pfister to celebrate and they always pick a new room to stay in. Carla and Tommy had dozens of funny stories about run-ins with celebrities, maids, Charlie Pfister’s ghost, and more. They finished each other’s sentences. I guess that  happens when you share 18 years of memories. And may they continue to share many more, at the Pfister.

Carla and Tommy
Carla and Tommy

 

Pfister Files: Rosemary Steinfest

Over the next few months, I will be dusting off pages from the Pfister’s history books and sharing bits of the Pfister’s prolific history. This is the second post in this series.

Rosemary Steinfest is a bona fide rock star. She was the first and still, the only woman general manager of the Pfister Hotel. Now, after raising a family and a successful career, she golfs most every day, if she’s not at Zumba class or planning a party.

After meeting the legend herself at the Pfister in December, I knew I wanted to know more. We gabbed on the phone since she’s enjoying her retirement in sunny Arizona. I sat in the cafe imaging her warm presence radiating like the neat cup of tea keeping me company.

Rosemary Steinfest
Rosemary Steinfest

Rosemary began working as Ben Marcus’s personal secretary in 1956. She had previous experience in the movie industry with MGM pictures so Ben hired her on the spot. At the time, Ben only had 25 theaters; he didn’t own any hotels.

Throughout her 40-year tenure with the Marcus Corporation, Rosemary held the titles of director of sales, director and sales and catering, VP of the Marc Plaza hotel, and more. Of course, her most memorable position was general manager of the Pfister Hotel from 1986-1996.

She still remembers the day they promoted her. “We all attended dinner in the English Room, my children were there, and then they told me about the new position. I was so proud.” I asked what some of her favorite memories were as GM. “What can I pick out of 40 years, that is a very long story!” she retorted.

“One year, when I was in charge of coordinating the employee United Way campaign, I was really into dancing so I taught all the department heads how to do the electric slide. I did a lot of things with the employees, as opposed to as their boss.”

She admitted that it was not easy being the only woman in the executive world, but Rosemary didn’t let it get to her. “I kept my stance, and Ben and Steve always stood behind me,” she said.

Rosemary enjoyed traveling and organizing meetings for groups like the Historic Hotels of America and Preferred Hotels, as everything was of the highest caliber. “I booked all the baseball teams and the Packers. They spent one night somewhere else and wanted none of that, so I took care of them. I even brought in Regis Philbin for the Centennial,” she reminisces proudly.

The Pfister Time Capsule
The Pfister Time Capsule

Organizing the Centennial celebration in 1993 was by far her biggest undertaking. She created and closed the time capsule in the lobby. Have you ever noticed it? I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t, so I ran out to find it after we got off the phone. The beautiful emerald marble statue stands about four feet tall, right at the bottom of the staircase as you enter the lobby. It’s set to be opened in 2093 at the Pfister’s 200th anniversary.

“It was a wonderful career. Having worked there for so many years, I met all the presidents, dignitaries, and I also have so many fond memories of all the people I worked with.”

A Milwaukee native, Rosemary moved to Phoenix when she retired in 1996. She says she has a wonderful group of friends down there and they do everything together, including travel. Though she’s moved on to sunnier skies, Rosemary will always be an important part of Milwaukee and the Pfister’s history.

#PrintMKE at The Pfister Hotel

The Pfister, along with the rest of Milwaukee, is exited to welcome the attendees of Print: MKE 2013.  What’s even more exciting, is that this year, Timothy and his friend and fellow artist, Erin Close are participating in their own off campus exhibit, titled Hurry Or Your Ears Won’t See What I’ve Made.

The exhibit, which is in Timothy’s Studio, is open from 7am-9pm daily from March 20th through the 23rd. With a reception on Friday, March 22nd, from 5-9pm.

Erin and Timothy’s official description of the exhibit is as follows

Both Erin and Timothy were raised around people with an absence of vision—Erin with her parents and Timothy with his grandfather. This instilled a heightened awareness of physical presence in them both. The pair has transformed this acuteness in their relationship with materials and tools. The tape of an audiocassette mirrors yarn as the starting point for a potential experience. Through the playing of the tape and the weaving of the yarn a sensory experience is performed. The repetitive function of a slate and stylus for writing Braille echo the marking on a plate in printmaking, both building to a completed sensorial language. Work will be created live throughout the conference. Erin and Timothy invite you to feel with your eyes and listen with your hands.

As Timothy wraps up his time as our Artist-in-Residence we invite you to stop in and experience him, and his work while you can including his Print: MKE 2013 exhibit!  You can find more info on the event on the official Facebook event page.